The Cable

Situation Report: Syria op chief profiled; Yemen continues to fester; lots of defense biz news and so much more

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson Our Way to Fall. The two-star U.S. Army general in charge of training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels has been working his way up in the shadowy world of special operations and intelligence for decades, writes FP’s Sean Naylor in what is without a doubt the most in-depth look ...

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson

Our Way to Fall. The two-star U.S. Army general in charge of training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels has been working his way up in the shadowy world of special operations and intelligence for decades, writes FP’s Sean Naylor in what is without a doubt the most in-depth look at the career of Maj. Gen. Mike Nagata.

Seriously, click through for a rundown of how Nagata — the head of U.S. special operations forces troops in the Middle East — flat out told his bosses two years ago how Iraq, Syria, and Yemen were sliding into chaos, but please stay for quotes like these: “I did martial arts for 17 years. Mike Nagata will put you in a hospital faster than you can blink … and orthopedic dudes will be there for weeks trying to put you back together.”

And the mess continues. The loss of the U.S. special forces training presence in Yemen, along with $500 million in American military equipment, hasn’t been a shining moment for American policy in the region. The head of U.S. Special Operations Command said on Friday there’s “great concern” about the loss of American presence on the ground there after U.S. special operators had to leave the country earlier this year due to the fighting between Houthi forces and the government.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel said that “I think we should be very, very concerned about,” the Houthi takeover of large swaths of Yemen. “Obviously, we would prefer to be located with our Yemeni partners, and being able to share information with them, to understand in particular, what al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is doing,” Votel said.

In a related story, check out FP’s Lara Jakes on the controversy over the $274 million “guilt money” offered by Saudi Arabia for humanitarian aid in Yemen.

Too Official. From an official perspective it looks to be a relatively slow(?) week coming up after last week’s drama over the Defense budget mark up in the House of Representatives. The biggest event scheduled thus far comes on Wednesday, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee about the budget.

It begins. May. Spring. Defense budget season. The Afghan fighting season. Presidential hopefuls sweating their way through State Fairs. All of it. And then there’s the Situation Report. Send it all along to and on Twitter at @paulmcleary.

The Business of Defense

Folks at times forget that like it or not, one of the jobs of the U.S. defense secretary is to push the sale of American goods to foreign allies. And during his trip next month to India, Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to push a variety of American gear as part of a 10-year India-U.S. Defense Framework Agreement, which will allow the two countries to co-develop and produce military equipment in India, IHS Jane’s reminds us.

India has long bought military gear both from Russia and the U.S., and has had problems in recent years getting the Russians to fully commit to building parts of Russian fighters and helicopters in India. It’s all part of a push by New Delhi to begin building an indigenous military design and production capability at a time when it’s main rival, China, is rapidly building its own defense industrial base.

As the Wall Street Journal noted May 1, “for the first time since the Cold War, the world sub fleet is growing. Driven by changing strategic threats, surging global trade and new technologies, countries are buying or upgrading subs, even as some scale back on land and air equipment.”

Want proof? Canada is kicking around the idea of extending the life of its four Victoria-class submarines, and is hatching a plan to spend as much as $2.5 billion on the project, reports David Pugliese of Defense News. Since Canada doesn’t have the capacity to do the work in-house, the U.K. company Babcock — Canada bought the subs second-hand from the U.K. — is expected to push hard for the contract, though Northrop Grumman has also done work on the subs.


The Baltimore Sun’s Scott Dance writes that a good number of the tweets using the hashtag #BALTIMORELOOTCREW being sent out last week depicting looting and violence in Baltimore were posted by people in Russia, China, and the Middle East, a Baltimore-area cyber security firm found.

The GCHQ, the U.K.’s intel and eavesdropping agency, is in a strange little advertising battle with “information assurance” company NCC Group to try and poach the firm’s top talent. The rivals have even taken to placing recruiting ads outside each other’s offices, writes The Telegraph’s Christopher Williams.

Middle East

While Saudi Arabia denies that it has sent ground troops into Yemen, others aren’t so sure, according to the Los Angeles Times. A “new fighting unit in Aden joined members of what is known as the Southern Resistance Committees, an anti-Houthi armed group, the resistance faction said. The new force reportedly includes special forces operatives.”

In Iraq, the Islamic State has killed hundreds of Yazidi prisoners, the BBC reported on Saturday. Six Iraqi soldiers and at least thirteen others were killed in different bombing attacks as well.

There have been multiple reports that as many as many as 52 civilians died in Syria as a result of a U.S.-led air strike on May 1. The military has not confirmed the deaths, the highest from a single strike since the U.S. started bombing Syria last September. The raids have also killed almost 2,000 Islamic State fighters in the area.

In a series of unofficial talks hosted by Qatar over the weekend, Taliban representatives met with Afghan political figures to discuss a cease fire. As Amena Bakr and Jibran Ahman write for Reuters that “participants in Sunday’s meeting in Al-Khor, a seaside town north of Doha, emerged from the venue smiling and laughing on Sunday but refused to talk to waiting reporters.”


Ukraine Today reports that Lithuania has accused Russia of illegally re-routing ships that are laying an undersea power cable to Sweden to reduce Vilnius’ reliance on Russian-provided energy.

Russia will begin production of an old, Soviet-era nuclear bomber, Tom Nichols reports for The National Interest. The Tu-160, also known as the “Blackjack,” has no real military implications for the U.S., Nichols writes, but does carry some weight politically, as “the latest in a series of provocations.”


In other China news, Times of India reports that “China has sent armed police force for rescue operation in earthquake hit areas after Beijing received an ‘urgent request’ from Nepal, state media said. This is the first time the country’s armed police have ventured beyond its borders.”

China’s activities in the Antarctic received the New York Times treatment from Jane Perlez on Sunday, providing an overview of China’s activities down there. As other nations face budgetary shortages, China has continued to fund research which, thus far, has focused on “natural sciences,” but will likely be focusing on natural resources in the near future.


Nigerian troops have again been accused of killing civilians in recent days, the BBC reports. The story remains the same: “Local traditional ruler Chief Jessie Miri said he believed that up to 80 people had been killed. Military spokesman Captain Ikedichi Iweha denied soldiers had targeted civilians, saying that troops were battling militiamen in the area.”

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